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Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
Office sought: Naperville City Council (2-year Terms)
Family: Husband Gary Smith, retired Son Matthew Smith, 35, television film editor Daughter Sarah Smith, 31, theater education outreach coordinator Son Garrett Smith, 27, industrial designer
Occupation: Associate Professor of English, Coordinator of Cultural Events, North Central College, Naperville 1990-present
Civic involvement: Brook Crossing Estates Homeowners Association President, 1990-1992 Transportation Advisory Board, 1990-1991 Plan Commission, 1991-Jan. 2002; Chair, July 1997-January 2002 Zoning Board of Appeals, 2002-2006; Chair, 2004-2006 President, League of Women Voters of Naperville, 2004-2008
Elected offices held: Naperville City Council, 2009-present
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No
Key Issue 1
Community Safety As our community grows both in numbers and scope, the issues of safety for our citizens, youth, businesses and visitors becomes more challenging. Sadly, our children are using and dying from heroin they are obtaining right here in Naperville. We must work with local and regional law enforcement to curtail the availability of drugs in our community and we must call on the expertise of Edward Hospital, Linden Oaks, area social services, our schools, faith-based organizations, and organizations of the Collaborative Youth Team like 360 Youth Services, KidsMatter and the Y to help support the health, self-esteem, and coping skills of young people and their families. I heartily support the council's decision to add $50,000 to the Social Services budget to address heroin use and suicide prevention. In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, we are currently leading a collaborative planning process to deal with emergencies like active shooter situations in our schools and community. The safety of our Downtown is crucial if we are to keep the area vibrant, attractive and economically viable. We need to work with business owners and law enforcement to maintain safety while continuing to foster a welcoming environment. With some 150,000 residents and countless businesses spread across 46 square miles, our ability to respond effectively in an emergency is critical. The City needs to continually invest in and update our state-of-the-art emergency preparedness plan, and involve citizens groups as well as professional staff and local, regional and national resources to ensure that we are employing the most effective tactics, equipment, personnel and means of communication to protect our community.
Key Issue 2
Economic Development By cooperating with State, County and local governmental bodies, allocating Industrial Revenue Bonds, and seeking the support of the local business community, we have been successful in encouraging Navistar, a very significant national employer, to move its headquarters here. Other incentives resulted in Walmart relocating within Naperville, providing an estimated $750,000 in annual sales tax revenue for the City. Unlike several other surrounding home rule communities, we do not impose an additional home rule sales tax in Naperville, providing an advantage to shoppers and the business community. The steps we have taken to spur economic development have paid off in measurable dividends to the community. We need to continue to carefully consider incentives that promote development without giving away the store. In each case we must carefully balance benefit to the businesses and benefit to the community.
Key Issue 3
Delivering exceptional service within a balanced budget to minimize the tax burden on residents. I am proud that in some of the most challenging economic times in the past 20 years, the City continues to make strides in cost containment and best business practices to maintain the quality of services residents have come to expect within a balanced budget. We must continue to benchmark these practices to ensure the quality of life and sound financial footing that keeps taxes lower than that of surrounding communities and maintains our AAA Bond Rating, the highest available from Moody's and Standard and Poor?s. Residents will enjoy an average household drop of over $90 in their property taxes this year in the City of Naperville portion of their real estate tax bill.
There are increasing concerns about safety in downtown Naperville, especially on weekend nights. Is the city doing enough to promote downtown safety and, if not, what other steps should it take?
We raised three children in Naperville who spent their teenage and college years enjoying a downtown that was both entertaining and safe. I believe we must do everything we can to use resources wisely to make sure that is still the case, even as we grow and diversify our business base in downtown. How our residents and visitors feel about their safety in the downtown is absolutely key to its success. This is a problem we can solve, and have already begun to work on. As a member of the Downtown Advisory Commission, I am committed to working together with the Downtown Naperville Alliance, the Chamber of Commerce, the downtown businesses and the police to create effective solutions. We can learn from the restaurant managers and owners how we can arrive at solutions together that take into consideration the safety and welfare of patrons, employees, drivers, and passersby. That being said, I strongly support cracking down much more quickly on establishments that are not complying with existing laws and supporting those that are proactive in creating and maintaining a safe environment. We already have increased patrols in the area, particularly on weekend evenings. I support the police department's plan to shift some assignments so some civilian employees can free up uniformed officers to assist in this effort. Continued dialogue and communication between the businesses, our public safety professionals and residents will help us create workable solutions without breaking the budget.
What is your vision for the continued development of downtown? Are there types of businesses you would like to see in the central business district or other parts of the city?
As chair of the Plan Commission from 1997 to early 2002, I have long worked on the development of the downtown in balance with the residential, commercial, and retail development of the city as a whole. I also serve as a council representative on the Downtown Advisory Commission. The economic downturn hit all parts of the city, but was most visible in the downtown in three spots: the intersection of Main Street and Van Buren, the deteriorating property at 420 South Washington, and the long-planned but unbuilt Water Street development. Through careful City/developer negotiation, the completion of Main Street Promenade East is underway. Working with North Central College, the eyesore at 420 South Washington has been torn down and the space will be transformed into a welcoming park that will enhance our downtown gateway. Currently, city staff, members of the public, and the council are all providing input for the Water Street developers on a revamped PUD. While our downtown won't look exactly the way it would have if the economy had continued to expand in 2007, 2008, and 2009, we?ll see a very attractive completion of Main Street Promenade East, a park that's an enhancement to the downtown at 420 S. Washington, and ideally, a Water Street development that will combine multiple uses, including additional public parking, in a project that match the scale of the downtown much more closely than envisioned a few months ago. I support the idea of a hotel in the downtown, within walking distance of Naper Settlement, shopping, restaurants, North Central College, Edward Hospital and the Riverwalk. The downtown hosts so many events (3Ks, parades, art shows, sporting events, concerts, weddings) that a hotel makes sense. I would like to see some retail uses in the downtown geared to our young customers, including teenagers and college students, who love to spend time downtown but have limited shopping options compared to adults. We should not depend as heavily on bar and restaurant uses as we do now. As someone who has presided over hearings on the development of multiple Master Plans, including two for the Southwest Sector, I look forward to helping plan the future of Downtown. Continued development must be sensitive to surrounding residential areas, traffic flow, walkability, and the architectural vernacular of the district.
Has Naperville's image gotten better or worse over the past four years? What are two things the city needs to do better?
At a time when Americans are cynical and frustrated with government, especially in Illinois, we continue to provide excellent services for our residents at a reasonable cost. Naperville is consistently rated as one of the most desirable communities in the nation, because of its mix of excellent schools, parks, recreational facilities, libraries, and public amenities, as well as access to highway and train transportation. While many governmental bodies are criticized as disconnected from their citizens, the City of Naperville prides itself on transparency and accessibility. The Sunshine Review, which ranks communities for governmental transparency has awarded us an A+ rating, one of the few in the state. Naperville has retained an excellent image as a city that others want to emulate. Two things we could do better are to communicate more clearly with our residents and to make sure Naperville is heard in Springfield. Ever since the snowstorm of February 2011, we have looked at ways to communicate better with residents in unusual conditions. When the employees who normally answer phones and respond to the public are out dealing with emergency conditions, we need to create alternative methods to inform residents with regular status update, instructions and access to personnel to answer questions. We need to employ the best technology practices used by other communities of our size, and look to our public information personnel, neighborhood groups, Homeowners Confederation and Community Emergency Response Team to create a stronger communications plan. We have excellent local representation on the state level, but now that it is split among a number of representatives, many newly elected, we need to work harder to communicate Naperville's contributions and interests to the State. Naperville offers much to Illinois as an economic engine, providing exceptional job opportunities, strong technology enterprise, a diverse business base, highest quality education and healthcare resources, and excellent borrowing power. We deserve the assistance of Springfield to continue to support our success. Initiatives like the Route 59 expansion are critical to Naperville and the State.
In these tight economic times, municipal budgets have to be prioritized. Where, if anywhere, could the current budget be trimmed, and conversely, are there areas the budget does not give enough money to?
When I was elected to the council in 2009, the city was in the second year of a national recession. The most painful cuts to our budget were in personnel; the city reduced the number of employees by more than 12%. New employees come in under a new Tier 2 benefit structure, and almost all of our hiring since 2008 has been to fill vacancies as employees retire or leave, not in creating new jobs. As City Manager Doug Krieger notes, we have moved pastcautiously optimistic? tooptimistic? when it comes to our budget. Tax revenues from retail sales (including clothing, home improvement, and grocery sales) are up 5% in 2012, outpacing all of our northern Illinois neighbors other than the city of Chicago. Increased automobile sales tax revenues currently provide one-third if our overall tax revenue, up 8.5% in the past year. In terms of potential savings, I am concerned that the 95th Street bridge extension will cost the city $2.2 million. However, our legal agreements with other local government entities dating back to 2001 mean that we will have to follow through with this project. As the economy improves, I hope that we can reinstate the twice a year brush pickup, which our residents came to rely on. We must remain watchful of the needs for safety and social services for our residents and act to appropriately fund those critical needs. I also support a recycling cart program that will enable residents to more easily transfer more of their garbage to recycling with a sturdy, covered, rolling container similar to our garbage carts. That will also keep the streets cleaner and less cluttered on pickup days.
What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
We need to ensure inclusion and opportunities for current and future generations of Napervillians. We have become a city with a more diverse demographic. Many of the baby boomers who moved to Naperville in the 1980s and 1990s have raised their children to adulthood, but want to stay to enjoy the amenities of the city and, if they are lucky, the companionship of their children and grandchildren. Many will not want to stay in their large houses, but will be seeking a different type of housing, to buy or to rent. We need to consider this as we see residential proposals come forward. As the baby boomers age, they will be seeking additional ways that allow them to stay in their homes. Right now there is no organization that coordinates the needs and interests of the "junior seniors" in town.
The 2010 census shows that Naperville has also become a more ethnically diverse city than ten years ago, especially with an influx of professionals from South and East Asia. Although these groups have strong cultural ties through their houses of worship and educational and professional associations, Naperville should make a concerted effort to welcome and include these citizens so they can become involved in local government, through outreach to cultural associations, invitations to the Citizens' Academy, and appointments to boards and commissions.